Melissa Writes From Halakan


Dear Ken,

I dropped my last letter into the mailbox just seconds before Harshan called me on the phone. So I’ve left you hanging all this time with the wrong impression! A lot has happened, and I can’t say I’ve got it all straight in my head, but I’ll try to bring you up to date.

Harshan’s leave expired, and that meant he had to return to his job as a purser on the Earth-Alpha Centauri run. That much you know. It never occurred to me that I could accompany him to Fomin, the capital of Halakan. My grant was to see Homeland, not just Thorgelfayne, so I can go just about anywhere I please.

So Harshan called to see if I wanted to go along, and of course I agreed. This was a last minute decision on my part, so we spent about an hour with the travel agent trying to find a flight where we could fly together. All we could get was Kharg-And-Beyond Airlines (a Fjarnian company) and the flight left at what Lanni called an ‘unconscionable’ time of the morning. Lanni and Harna gave us such a teary send-off the airport, that I think I would have missed the final boarding call if Harshan had not been there.

“Harshan,” I said, “this wonderful stroke of good fortune looks a little too convenient,” I said to him on the plane.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he replied, baffled.

“I mean all these coincidences: the spaceport is in Halakan, which is your native country; and my grant pays for my travels anywhere on the globe... Ken’s readers are going to be convinced for sure that this is science fiction! Next, I expect you’ll tell me Fomin is your home town!”

“Now that’s what I like about you,” he said, touching the tip of my nose with his finger. “So concerned about how this fictitious ‘Ken’ and his imaginary readers will interpret your letters.” He smiled and his eyes laughed. “I can’t criticize your thoughtfulness, but you need to think about real life!”

I wanted to protest that you really do edit my letters and that you are not just a fictional character someone created to throw the sleuths off the scent (that’s Harshan’s theory). We’ve had this discussion before; no sense starting it up again.

“So, is Fomin your hometown?” I asked in a small voice.

“No,” he said decisively. “However, my parents did move there several years ago so that it would be more convenient for me to visit them when I’m on leave.”

“AHA!” I shouted triumphantly. Some people in the rows ahead of us turned back to look. I covered my mouth with my hand to adjust my volume control. “So, this unbelievable fairy-tale string of coincidences continues,” I whispered. “Everyone will think Ken is a bad writer taking a cheap way out of a tangle in the plot!”

“That’s his problem,” Harshan remarked, “provided that he exists.”

Just then the flight attendant interrupted to serve us breakfast. Harshan acted as translator for me because it was a Fjarnian airline. It was a little awkward being so dependent on him. They chatted for a while, and then the flight attendant left.

“What was that all about?” I inquired, unwrapping the plastic from the dish.

“He was just curious. It isn’t common to find white people speaking Thorgelfaynese unless they’re academics, which we obviously aren’t. So I explained.”

We were both famished, so we suspended conversation while we ate.

Outside of Thorgelfayne, which is a very small country, Thorgelfaynese is considered a language of scholars and intellectuals. Most non-Thorgelfaynese who know the language generally don’t go around using it for casual conversation in public; that would be showing off, and Homelanders are definitely not ostentatious. So our casual use of the Thorgelfaynese language certainly must have been intriguing.

Incidentally, that breakfast was scrumptious. I had no idea what it was, but I was so hungry I didn’t care.

That’s when I found out that Harshan speaks four languages! I was impressed, but Harshan shrugs it off. His native language is Halakanian, of course; plus he speaks Fjarnian, which is especially important to a spaceship purser; he had to learn Thorgelfaynese to continue his higher education, as you can imagine; and finally he speaks ... the name of that language just slipped my mind! At any rate, most Homelanders speak two or three languages at least. It is a normal part of elementary education in most countries.

Just as we were finishing our meal, the pilot made a lengthy announcement on the intercom. It was in Fjarnian, so the only word I recognized was ‘Melissa.’ I once had a friend by the name of Misty who went on a trip to Germany. She told me that her name sounded just like a very unfortunate German word; so naturally I wondered if ‘melissa’ meant something in Fjarnian. I mean, if I’m traveling around this planet with a moniker that means ‘exhaust pipe’ or something, I need to know! I started to ask Harshan, but he just waved his hand. He was listening carefully so he could translate for me. I waited.

There was general applause at the end of the captain’s remarks, punctuated by a few shouts from various passengers. The pilot had announced my presence on the plane, Harshan explained, the nature of my visit to Homeland, and proudly proclaimed me as the first Human passenger aboard Kharg-And-Beyond Airlines. The people who were shouting out greetings were wishing us a pleasant trip. I was embarrassed and honored all at once.

After our trays were cleared away, I had to use the rest room, but I waited for the notoriety to die down first. Finally, figuring it was safe, I climbed over Harshan’s knees to get out (he made it into a game); but there were still friendly greetings and smiling faces all along the way. Of course, I felt like a fool. All those people were saying presumably nice things to me, and I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

After I got there, I made a momentous discovery: it’s hard to use the rest room when you are conscious of the fact that every single person on the plane knows you’re in there!

Harshan thought it was funny.

The flight was several hours long, but it was not overly boring. Occasionally someone would come by to shake my hand, and Harshan would translate. Most of the time I read. I knew I wouldn’t be able to read the in-flight magazine, so I brought a paperback novel from home—that is, from Hapdorn. During our final approach, we reset our watches. We left at eight o’clock, flew for about three hours, so the local time was almost noon.

When we got off the plane, Harshan sensed that I was tired and just picked up the slack. The airport was huge and confusing, there were scads and scads of people and I couldn’t read any of the signs or understand any of the announcements at all. I heard a scrap of Thorgelfaynese in the crowd, and my heart leapt as painfully pleasant memories of Hapdorn flooded my mind. For a moment, Thorgelfayne was my home and Thorgelfaynese was my language!

Harshan guided me through the mess. He asked about my tears, but I told him I was just tired.